As a teacher in Kuwait, I always relish the opportunity to
escape Kuwait whenever possible and spend the weekend drinking Belgian beer meet other like-minded teachers and learn practical applications of 21st century pedagogy. The selection and quality of the keynote speakers and keynotes at the UAE Google Apps for Education Summit at the American School of Dubai made this one of the best PDs I’ve done to date. A few highlights:
1) ASD Showcase
ASD hosted a showcase on the first day to highlight their students’ achievements using technology. They were predominantly examples of how technology had modified assessment: PSAs created in Final Cut Pro by the video production class, virtual posters made on Glogster by 5th graders, Lego programming with Scratch done by 4th graders, various presentations in Prezi and Google Presentations, and short history graphic novels designed using Comic Life. Other displays highlighted how technology had truly redefined instruction: a 1st grade class used Explain Everything and shared their work by miroring their displays to a projector with AirShow, while the PE classes used iPod touches to record video to peer-evaluate form and technique.
See how many students in ASD’s showcase used tools in the cloud made me reevaluate my stance on Google’s Chromebook line. I had previously thought that they were limited to surfing the web and doing Google Docs, since there are no local apps and everything is done through the browser. But hey, it turns out that you can edit videos in the cloud using YouTube and Animoto! Chromebooks still aren’t appropriate for heavy-duty digital media, but at a $200-$250 price point they don’t need to be. For schools on a budget who want to go 1 to 1 but don’t want to do a BYOD policy, I’d tentatively recommend them – specifically Samsung’s $250 model for a 7-hour battery life or HP’s version for a 14″ screen.
3) Hapara’s Teacher Dashboard
Hapara’s third-party addon for Google Docs gives teachers a dashboard where they can see all of their students’ recent work/emails/blog posts/blog comments at a glance. It’s $4/year/student, but it makes Google Drive’s interface a lot more manageable and injects a measure of accountability into the “wildly creative” and independent nature of collaborative learning.
4) Infrastructure tour
ASD has a university-quality network setup thanks to the planning of IT Director Grant Weaver. It’s been key to the success of their 1-to-1 program, which is just about having an internet connection for every student as it for having a device for each student. The highlights for me included:
- PFSense boxes that aggregated 11 DSL lines into a single pool of bandwidth for the campus
- An Aruba WiFi implementation that allows them to manage number of devices connecting, allowing students and faculty one laptop and one other mobile device (the Aruba controller can tell the type of device connecting to its hotspots)
- Linux-based print controllers running PaperCut connecting to each shared laser printer, which require users to be physically present to release their print jobs and thus cuts down on paper wastage
- Palo Alto application-based firewalls – this allows them to, say, restrict Facebook at all times except for lunch, or limit YouTube streaming to 1Mbps instead of cutting it off completely, or block torrent downloads during the day but not overnight.
I saw two ways of creating e-portfolios using Blogger and Google Sites. For a portfolio made for a single deadline, I’d recommend using Google Sites since it offers more control over the organization and layout of your site. Blogger is more oriented towards a chronological series of posts and makes it harder to control the layout and organization, but that same attribute means it’s good for capturing a students progress over time, such as over the three years of middle school
6) Haiku LMS
ASD decided to use Haiku as their Learning Managment System (LMS). Its featureset is pretty similar to Moodle, but the interface seems simpler and more polished, it offers Google Apps integration, and crucially it offers much more control over the appeaance and layout of individual courses. This makes it more useful for disseminating general information about a class. At ASD, the elementary school has one course set up for each grade level that functions as a portal for parents. This implementation is slowly replacing the previous internal community portal powered by Google Sites.
Five Sessions I Wish I Could Have Attended
I couldn’t fit all the sessions into my schedule, but if I could have then I would have added a few more:
- 20 Top Apps Workshop: this apparently was like a mini Google Slam, where 20 useful tools were demoed in about 3 minutes each.
- Visual literacy workshop: I’d better get on board with this if I don’t want to miss out on the wave of the future. Farewell, print literacy!
- Youtube workshops: I’ve always thought that iMovie was THE way to edit movies, but between YouTube and Animoto there are more and more ways for students to create multimedia stories. I’m assuming this is what you’d use to edit video on a Chromebook.
- Digital Citizenship: I wish I did more in my classes to develop the children as individuals, not just as students. I attended two previous NESA conferences to get a Habits of Mind certificate, and this falls into the same vein.
- Google Apps Mashups: Because anything I can do to make my planning and teaching workflow more like DJ Danger Mouse and Girl Talk must be a good thing. Also heard that this was a popular (and therefore overcrowded) session.
Here’s a link to the online presentations from many of the sessions.
I was already familiar with many of the pedagogical concepts presented in the sessions and keynotes (a wild era of creativity, the necessity of collaboration, etc etc etc) but the showcase and infrastructure impressed one thing upon me as a classroom teacher and future IT coordinator: the technology needs to be a seamless part of the learning process; it must be transparent and effortless. Asking student to open their laptops and start writing a collaborative brainstorm is vastly different from explaining the task in class, having them gather materials, taking them to a lab, and then getting them set up again. Even mobile laptop carts don’t match the seamlessness of a 1:1 program – there’s still overhead in the setup and takedown process. Next year, as the IT Coordinator of a small school, I’ll look to implement this philosophy wherever I can.